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Sunday, June 16, 2019

Hustle. Heart. Determination. Follow-through. These are but a few adjectives one could use to describe the 2018-19 RYNJ Jaguars boys hockey team. “From day one I had a strong feeling this team was going to be special,” said Coach Dov Elefant. “Despite having to live up to last year’s team who was also fantastic, the boys rose to the challenge and made us all very proud.” Special, exceptional, whatever you want to call it, the RYNJ Jaguars boys hockey had an historic year.

They opened their season at home against MDS, earning a 9-2 win, with two goals each from Shlomo Mittel and Sariel Rotblat. Game two, they headed to the always challenging Ramaz gym with its many passionate fans. However, the Jaguars rolled through with a 6-0 victory, including two goals from Noam Kornwasser. In their third regular season game, in a rematch of last year’s championship matchup, the Jaguars hosted Moriah. The Jaguars went down early, falling behind 3-1 in the first period. However, with some adjustments and motivation between periods, the Jaguars came out firing in the second, and ultimately defeated Moriah by a score of 6-3, led by two goals and an assist from Gavriel Rudman. The schedule didn’t get any easier as next up was Kushner, a perennially top team. Once again, the Jaguars fell behind early, down 2-0 towards the end of the first period. However, showing the resilience that defined this team, they regrouped again after the first period, and came out firing on all cylinders in the second period and didn’t look back from there. The final score was 7-2, with Rami Knapp netting his first goal of the season. Next, the Jaguars traveled to play an improved WDS team for game five, winning 6-2, with goals contributed by Max Sandel, Abie Rosenberg and Chaim Simon. With a 5-0 record, the Jaguars went on to beat Yavneh on the road 8-2, with Rudman leading the way again with a hat trick and an assist. RYNJ headed to Ashar on December 29, and won, including a hat-trick scored by Noam Becker, two goals by Zevi Burg, Yoel Gellman and Dovi Zauderer and a goal each by Alexander Cooper, Akiva Mittel and Yosef Shell. At JEC, the Jaguars continued their dominant run with another big win featuring a hat trick by Dani Greenberg, two goals by Eli Knapp, Kornwasser and Aryeh Eizikovitz and a goal each by Burg, Akiva Mittel and Dovid Schulhof. The final regular season game was at home against Noam, never an easy matchup. But the Jaguars were up to the task, with a 5-2 win, led by a hat trick from Eli Knapp, capping off their perfect regular season. On offense, the Jaguars outscored their opponents by an average margin of over 9-2 on a per-game basis throughout the regular season. Goaltenders Chaim Mermelstein and Ezra Grauberd were not to be outdone, giving up more than two goals just once in the regular season (in a 6-3 win).

The Jaguars’ postseason run was more of the same, outscoring their first round, semifinal and championship opponents by a total of 16-4. In the quarterfinal matchup, the Jaguars defeated WDS by a score of 6-2 with two goals scored by Kornwasser and Greenberg and a beautiful top shelf, full court slap shot by Max Sandel. In the semi-final game against Yavneh, RYNJ earned a 7-2 win, with two goals and an assist by both Eli Knapp and Greenberg, setting themselves up for a difficult championship game against Kushner. Playing at TABC, the Jaguars were in for a very tough, physical game, in their attempt to repeat as champions. Jaguar nation did not disappoint, as the TABC gym was packed with several hundred fans. Although they had many chances early, Kushner’s goalie was stellar in net and determined not to let anything past him. Finally, more than midway through the game, RYNJ broke through with a gorgeous goal by Greenberg, his first of two, plus one from Kornwasser, as the Jaguars went on to defeat Kushner 3-0. One thing that stood out was the outstanding play from the defense. As Coach Yitzi Karasick put it “There’s no question that Chaim’s goaltending played a huge part, but one thing I think made a huge difference was something we talked about and practiced a lot, which was not letting their great forwards spin out on their forehand, but force them to their backhand. I think the boys executed this flawlessly, which shut them down.” With his unbelievable play in net to get the shutout, for a second year in a row, Chaim Mermelstein proved why he was the best goalie in the league. All of this ultimately led to an undefeated season—the first in RYNJ boys hockey history—and a back-to-back HAYMISH championship.

While their on-the-court accomplishments speak for themselves, Coach Karasick was also impressed with how they’ve grown as people. “We knew going in that we had a great team this year, but it wasn’t until a few games into the season that I realized just how special this group was. As coaches, we pushed them in practice, and tried to provide them with the skills and confidence to be prepared for in game situations. But what made this team so fantastic, was the leadership and competitiveness of the eighth graders, which undoubtedly trickled down to the rest of the team. I couldn’t ask for a better group of kids to represent RYNJ, both on and off the court, and I’m proud to have been a part of it.”

Riding high on their successes throughout the HAYMISH regular season and playoffs, the team was once again invited to the annual Martin Weiselberg Memorial Hockey Tournament in Queens. Their results in the tournament were reflective of those throughout the regular season and playoffs, outscoring their opponents by a total of 19-1, putting together three shutout wins in the process including one in the championship over HALB (the champion of the New York league this season). This marked RYNJ’s first championship in this tournament since entering the HAYMISH league.

RYNJ Athletics would like to thank coaches Dov Elefant and Yitzi Karasick for their hard work with the student-athletes this year. Their leadership—in not only teaching the student-athletes of RYNJ how to become better floor hockey players, but also how to take those lessons learned and use them in their everyday lives—is greatly appreciated.

Their championship banner has been raised. Their trophies are headed to the display case. The 2018-2019 Jaguars have built their legacy in RYNJ Athletics history.

By Dan Sanacore